Let Windsor probe play out

Published 4:51 pm Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Reaction has been swift to outgoing Attorney General Mark Herring’s lawsuit alleging a pattern of racial discrimination by the Windsor Police Department in the way it enforces the law.

Amid the hot takes by both critics and defenders of the town, we prefer the approach of incoming Attorney General Jason Miyares, who says he will take his time and assess the facts when he takes office in a couple of weeks.

The allegations, on their face, are serious: that Black motorists are more likely to be stopped and have their vehicles searched than white motorists driving through town in central Isle of Wight County. The suit asserts that Army Lt. Caron Nazario, a Black and Latino man whose treatment during a 2020 traffic stop went viral and caused an officer’s termination, was the rule rather than the exception in Windsor. The town in central Isle of Wight has long had a reputation as a speed trap along heavily traveled Route 460, but lawsuits by Nazario, and now Herring, allege something far more sinister.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

The timing of Herring’s suit — in the final weeks of his tenure as attorney general — immediately drew criticism from the town and supporters of its police department. What else but political opportunism, they wonder, would drive Herring, who was defeated by Miyares in November’s election, to take such action on his way out the door?

The timing does raise eyebrows. On the other hand, there’s an old saying that it’s never too late to do the right thing. An investigation as thorough as Herring purports to have conducted takes time, and less than a year has passed since video of Nazario’s mistreatment became public. If Herring’s motivations were entirely political, he will be exposed soon enough by the courts, where the lawsuit now resides. If the allegations prove to have merit, citizens should be grateful that Herring took action, regardless of the political optics.

We appreciated the initial reaction by Miyares, whose spokesperson told The Smithfield Times last week that he would review the “facts and applicable law” after taking office later this month. Miyares, of course, could simply drop the lawsuit. And an immediate announcement that he would do so surely would have been popular with many in Isle of Wight and beyond who voted for him and gave Herring the boot in November.

Instead, Miyares is doing what he should: Assess the suit independently on its merits. He should then either let the suit proceed in Isle of Wight Circuit Court or give a detailed accounting of why it should not. Until then, all stakeholders would be wise to avoid knee-jerk reactions.